Beekeepers have a long tradition of inventiveness. Until recently, however, they have been confined to the physical world. Present-day beekeepers are the heirs to their clever ideas, with many pieces of useful equipment, including the Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth's hive design, Porter bee escapes, Snelgrove and Cloake boards, etc., named for their inventors.
In this digital age, it’s not surprising that geek-ish beekeepers have tackled the dark, and previously secret, world within their hives.
There have been many attempts to wire-up hives, but one company, BroodMinder, has leapt ahead of the pack with an elegant and simple-to-use system, which is both robust in its ability to collect and upload hive-data, and flexible enough to meet users’ varying needs for information.
That depth and flexibility are what persuaded us to add BroodMinder to our product line-up.
We’ve installed a full set of BroodMinder equipment on a hive near our store here in Greenwich, NY. Ironically, this hive is one which we call our “scale hive” because it is placed on an old-fashioned, balance beam, grain scale. On top of that pre-existing set-up, we have added a BroodMinder scale, along with two sensors: a temperature-only one and one of the more sophisticated ones that combines both temperature and relative humidity readings. This set, the Citizen Science Kit, is also paired with a wi-fi hub. That allows real-time upload of the instruments’ data to www.mybroodminder.com. You can also see the data from our scale hive here on our website.
It’s fascinating to study the information displayed on the graphs. (For those who go and look at the scale hive’s weight data on our website, the sharp increase – more than 20 pounds – in early December was the more than two-foot snow storm that buried the hives pictured on the cover of this month’s newsletter.)
However, what if you are intrigued but prefer to start on a smaller scale? Is there a more-modest entry point? The answer is, yes! So, let’s start there.
The most basic component of the set is the temperature-only sensor and it can be used all by itself to offer a fascinating window into the lives - and the biology - of the bees in your hives. This data can be captured with a free app on most cell phones. No extra equipment beyond the T-2 temperature sensor and your mobile phone are needed.
At the simplest level, temperature readings will tell you whether your hive is alive, where the bees are within the stack of boxes, and later in the winter, confirmation that the bees are, once again, caring for brood.
Beyond these basic questions about the bees, temperature sensors like the BroodMinder strips also allow curious beekeepers to study the effects of various winter management techniques, such as wrapping or insulating hives, installing quilt boxes, or upper entrances, performing oxalic acid vaporizations or opening the hive to provide supplemental feed. In warm weather, temperature changes can also indicate swarming, brood-rearing changes and overheating issues. Later in the season, it can help you properly time miticide applications which need an absence of brood for the best effect
For year-round use, there is a handy, built-in note taking feature which allows you to record all kinds of hive-tending activities, and notes about your observations of the bees.
You have the choice of keeping your data private, or uploading it to www.mybroodminder.com to share it with other beekeepers.
If you’ve been thinking of trying out some hive telemetry, a simple temperature strip and your cell phone may be a good starting point for you. But be warned, this can get addictive!
Last week there was a short break in an unusually early start of winter. I took advantage of that and installed a single temperature sensor in a Lyson 8/9 hive. I found it was easy and quick to do. And it was harmless to the bees, even in the winter, because it was a relatively warm and calm day. After activating the strip according to the instructions, all I needed to do was open the hive enough to slip it in place. With the app already on my phone, I was able to start collecting information very quickly.
In the coming months, we’ll have reports on some experiments we’ll be setting up using this monitoring equipment. We’re curious about hive insulation and quilt boxes. What will the data tell us about how they work in real-hive conditions? Stay tuned!